Category Archives: Ballot Question

Colorado Legislators Show Contempt For Citizens

Colorado legislators finally ended their session and went home, but not before weakening voters petition rights.

HB15-1057 creates petty new hurdles for initiatives.

In Colorado the politicians love making the initiative harder. Initiatives must have two sponsors. There are multiple review and comment hearings where the public can complain about the petition and changes can be demanded. Each time a change occurs a new comment hearing must be held. This process takes months. A representative of the sponsors had been required to attend each of these review hearings. If they didn’t attend it started the entire process over. This can be tedious considering a sponsor from Cortez would need to drive over 7 hours to be in Denver for the hearing. But they could have a representative in Denver attend in their place. Not anymore!

How petty can legislators be? They now require both sponsors to attend every hearing, and if one of the sponsors is unable to attend for any reason, the initiative is withdrawn and the process must be restarted.

From the bill:




Leave a Comment

Filed under Ballot measures, Ballot Question, Initiative, Petition Drive, politicians, referendum

Three Reasons Prop 1 Failed In Michigan

Yesterday May 5, 2015 Michigan voters rejected a statewide ballot proposal to increase taxes for road and infrastructure repair by a 4-1 margin. That’s 80% against, 19% for. It’s the biggest loss for a statewide constitutional amendment ballot proposal since the Michigan constitution was written in 1963. How does a ballot question fail 4-1 at the ballot box?


The Facts:
Michigan’s roads are in horrible shape. Everyone acknowledges this.

Voters are demanding action on roads. This has been a legislative issue for well over a year.

Why Prop 1 Failed, Reason One: Prop 1 was a textbook example of everything voters hate about politics, politicians, and the political process.

The proposal was presented as a tax increase to repair Michigan’s crumbling roads and bridges. In reality it was  $2 billion tax hike containing a slew of special interest giveaways. When sausage, Er, I mean legislation is made, lots of back door and under the table deals occur. Horse trading, vote trading, and earmarks; huge bills are written where individual legislators get their pet projects funded and their friends get state contracts and family members get state jobs. The wheeling and dealing results in omnibus bills and hundreds or thousands of pages in a single piece of legislation that politicians haven’t read and nobody understands completely. A fancy feel good title is slapped on and the politicians shake hands all around. Sometimes it’s republicans, sometimes democrats, and when it’s really bad, it’s bipartisan. Voters know this, and voters hate this. Voters want a simple choice, they are not legislators. Legislators will horse trade to pass legislation because they can collect later. Voters don’t wheel and deal on legislation, they vote yes or no, they have nothing to gain later.

Why Prop 1 Failed, Reason Two: The more issues you add to a ballot question, the fewer people will support the ballot question. Voters look for reasons to oppose a ballot question.

There are a few people around the country who work with ballot questions on a regular basis.  It’s a specialized field in which I happen to have some experience. People working in this field full time will tell you, there is an inverse relationship between number of popular subjects you can include in a ballot question and the amount of support you’ll see at the ballot box. Take an issue like term limits, 75% support, all day long, across party lines. Take an issue like redistricting reform, very popular, 60%+ support across the board. If you put those issues together, support for both will go down, not up. Why? Voters like to vote against things. They default to voting against measures when they are uncertain, even if it looks good. If Prop 1 had been about gas taxes for the roads, or sales tax increase for the roads, or sales tax increase for the schools, or sales tax increase for earned income tax credit, or any single issue it would have been much closer. Legislators like this method, include a little something for everyone. Voters saw it differently, voters went to the polls with a half dozen specific reasons to vote against this measure.

Why Prop 1 Failed, Reason Three: The campaign for Prop 1 was insulting to taxpayers.

Proponents of Prop 1 spent big money, over $9 million dollars, while opponents spent about $300,000. Anyone who doesn’t live in a cave has heard the arguments about big money buying elections i.e. Citizens United and the Koch brothers, yet it’s glaringly obvious big money hurt rather than helped this ballot question. Parading a crushed school bus around the state and running commercials about kids dying because of the roads didn’t help. Voters were insulted. Give us money or children will die in the streets, was clearly over the top.

Prop 1 should have never made it out of the legislature. It was a perfect storm created by lame ducks who have no business in office after an election, lobbyists who took an opportunity to grab for everything knowing voters would drive to the polls on potholes and cold patch, and a republican governor who is trying to show how centrist he can be by giving money to schools rather and raising the earned income tax credit.

The real solution is for Governor Snyder to lead by being a tough nerd. Sharpen the pencil and find room in the budget for the needed road repairs. Budgets are tight nationwide. Families are required to live within their means, they’ll support leaders who find ways to provide services without higher taxes.


Leave a Comment

Filed under Ballot measures, Ballot Question, politicians, Uncategorized

Dispersed Power or Central Authority

Term limits is one of the most divisive political issues in existence. People love term limits or they hate term limits.

On one side we have supporters of term limits. They want citizen legislators, accountable officials, responsive government, and power dispersed into the hands of many to avoid authoritarian government. This is the citizenry, the general populace, republicans, democrats, greens, libertarians, about 75%-80% of everyday people support term limits.

On the other side of this divisive issue we have those who oppose term limits. They want aggressive legislators who know the system, legislators who answer to them, government that gives them advantages, and more time for their people in office. This is the elected few, the lobbyists, the two party establishment, a minority of about 15% who directly benefit from controlling legislation and tax dollars.

To be sure, there are some crossovers, citizens who oppose term limits and officials who support term limits. But between these two sides division is clear. People who want power dispersed, and people who want more time (always more time) in control.

The establishment opposes term limits by talking about voter choice and elections, they downplay the incumbent advantage and political machines. They claim every election people choose to keep electing the same candidates because they really love those candidates. In Kennesaw, Georgia we can see a typical example.

From the Marietta Daily Journal:

Kennesaw Councilwoman Cris Eaton-Welsh said Thursday she won’t run for re-election, but she has three policy changes she wants to see before leaving at the end of the year.“My philosophy has always been that we’re never meant to be career politicians. That’s kind of what the country was founded on was part-time legislators. You’re supposed to come in, accomplish your job and groom someone else or encourage someone else and then move on,” Eaton-Welsh said.

Eaton-Welsh brought her proposal to Mayor Mark Mathews and the other council members Wednesday evening at a work session and received pushback from Mathews.

“You don’t think the voters already control that by leaving us in or taking us out of office?” Mathews asked Eaton-Welsh.

Eaton-Welsh said because incumbents are heavily favored in elections, “I really don’t think that they do.”

Mathews responded: “Wow.”

Mayor Mathews may be a great guy, but if he’s being honest and doesn’t think incumbents are heavily favored he’s out of touch with reality.

Term limits is very divisive, and it’s also very lopsided, voters support term limits by huge margins. If only politicians were in it for the people rather than the power.


Leave a Comment

Filed under Ballot Question, charter amendment, pension, politicians, Term limits

Sturgis, Michigan, So Many Dogs It’s Criminal

My wife and I are serious dog lovers. Our dog is the best dog in the world. She’s family. We adopted her from a shelter in 2009 and have never regretted it for a second. Choosing a dog at the shelter was tough. At the time we were in a small apartment, and I knew we only had room for one dog. When we walked into the shelter I asked, “which dog has been here the longest?” They showed us a skinny mix breed who had been waiting over two years for her forever home. My wife and I took her for a walk and she stole our hearts. I’ve wondered about all those dogs we passed up, they were facing long odds and most probably never found a forever home.

dinner time
Yesterday I read about Sturgis, Michigan a town that has made it illegal for anyone to own more than two dogs. The ordinance was created to stop individuals from operating kennels in the city, it reads as follows:

Sec. 10-33. – Operating a dog kennel in city prohibited.  No person, group of persons, association or corporation shall keep, operate, or maintain a dog kennel within the limits of the city. A dog kennel, as used in this section means any establishment wherein or whereon more than two dogs are owned, kept, or harbored. This section shall not apply to the owning, keeping, or harboring of any dog pups until they  attain the age of four months.

As you can see, it’s a broad definition of kennel and I suspect many residents are in violation of this law without being aware it exists.



From the article:

Rick Carter, of 204 S. Fourth St., disagrees with the standard and argues that the city should not be able to control the number of pets he has on his private property as long as the animals are cared for and create no nuisances. Carter is fighting a civil citation he received when someone reported he had three dogs at his home. He has refused to relocate any of his pets and says he has never been cited for a dog-related nuisance or danger.

Carter filed a citizen initiative petition in January, signed by more than 21 registered voters. That forced the Sturgis City Commission to either repeal the existing dog limit ordinance or send the question to the ballot for voters to decide.


Fortunately someone decided to challenge this law and gathered signatures to call for it’s repeal. They were motivated by a love of their three pets, and an unwillingness to abandon one of those pets. Tuesday, May 5, 2015 voters in Sturgis will be voting to decide whether or not to repeal this ordinance.


This question will appear on the ballot:

Should the City of Sturgis repeal Part II – Chapter 10 Animals
– Article II Dogs and Cats –
Section 10-33 of the City of Sturgis Code of Ordinances?
Sec. 10-33. – Operating a dog kennel in city prohibited.
No person, group of persons, association or corporation shall keep, operate, or maintain a dog kennel within the limits of the city. A dog kennel, as used in this section means any establishment wherein or whereon more than two dogs are owned, kept, or harbored. This section shall not apply to the owning, keeping, or harboring of any dog pups until they attain the age of four months.
3 dosg4
Voters decided to keep the kennel ordinance on 5/5/2015

By a 294-648 margin, Sturgis city voters Tuesday turned down the repeal of a city ordinance that limits residents to having no more than two dogs.

But the man who sought the repeal said Tuesday he is moving to Kansas City and his three dogs will be going with him.

Tuesday’s election turnout was less than 15 percent of registered voters citywide.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Ballot measures, Ballot Question, Petition Drive, Support These Campaigns!

Gresham, Oregon Do Politicians Deserve A Pay Raise?

Public servants, citizen legislators, or high paid city management, what do voters want? That is the question being asked for the fifth time since 1988 in Gresham Oregon.


Gresham, with an estimated population of 109,397 in 2013, is among dozens of cities that don’t pay elected leaders, according to the League of Oregon Cities. Instead, they get  $160 a month — $1,920 a year — to cover expenses such as cell phones, gas and other local travel expenses, according to city officials.

Instead of proposing specific salaries, the ballot measure would authorize the city’s Finance Committee to choose a dollar amount that’s capped. The committee, comprised of seven residents, works with City Council to adopt a budget every year.

Ballot Question:

26-166 Citizen Control and Oversight of Compensation for the Gresham Mayor

Question: Shall the volunteer Gresham Finance Citizen Advisory Committee oversee and approve compensation for the Mayor of the City of Gresham?
Summary: Gresham’s Charter prohibits City Council from setting its own compensation; does not establish a method for citizen oversight and control of compensation. The 2011 Charter Review Committee recommended a special task force further research the issue of Council compensation.

The task force convened in 2015 and recommended a volunteer citizen advisory committee (the Finance Committee) provide oversight and control over, and establish and approve the compensation of the Mayor of the City of Gresham.

Any compensation approved by the volunteer Gresham Finance Committee would be used in the annual budget process. The budget process includes notice of public hearings before the Budget Committee and City Council.
If amended, the Gresham Revised Code would read:
GRC 2.40.025 Compensation Board (Mayor) The Gresham Finance Committee shall provide oversight and control over the Mayor’s compensation and shall annually prepare and approve a compensation schedule for the Mayor of the City of Gresham. The salary shall not exceed 45% of the compensation paid to the Chair of the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners.
(New text is underlined)


Sample Ballot:


Leave a Comment

Filed under Ballot measures, Ballot Question, charter amendment, politicians

Elgin, Texas Mass Transit Amendment

The Elgin Petitioners Committee successfully gathered signatures on a petition that will require voter approval before the city spends taxpayer money on passenger train service.

From their website:

An Important Message For The Citizens Of Elgin

From the Elgin Petitioners Committee

The Austin area population is growing rapidly. This growth has led to major congestion on roads like IH 35 and MoPac. Elgin, and other communities in the US 290E corridor, are projected to experience similar growth in coming years.

TxDOT had planned for improving 290E to a 6 lane divided freeway. CAMPO, the regional planning agency in Austin, had pledged $148 million towards the 290E project but 4 or 5 years ago the Elgin City Council allowed TxDOT and CAMPO to divert our 290E money into other projects.

The official long range transportation plan for the 5 county region now calls for no improvements whatsoever for 290E until sometime after the year 2035. The only road improvement scheduled for the Elgin area between now and 2035 is the adding of 2 lanes to N Ave C between SH 95 and County Line Road. (SH 95 is to be widened in Williamson County in the year 2024.)

We believe that members of the City Council who advocate building a passenger train project between Elgin and Austin (the “Green Line”) may have traded away our road funding to get approval of the train project. The Elgin Petitioners Committee supports building a train line but only after the improvements to 290E and other important arteries are upgraded.

To that end, we are circulating a petition which would require the City Council to place a measure on the ballot. The ballot proposition will allow the citizens to vote for roads first, or trains first. We believe that 90% of the citizens agree that this is a good idea.

We want 290E put back into the list of transportation projects and we want our funding restored. The alternative is having 290E just as congested as IH 35 or MoPac.

The ballot language:

“The City has the power to spend taxpayer money to construct and maintain streets, roads, highways, bike trails, sidewalks and mass transit facilities, except that no taxpayer money may be spent on or contractually pledged to any passenger train project unless a public bus line shall have first demonstrated a need for train service by having 500 intercity boardings in Elgin per weekday, averaged over three months, connecting to the City of Austin.”


Sample Ballot


Notice of Election



Leave a Comment

Filed under Ballot measures, Ballot Question, charter amendment, crony capitalism, Initiative, Our million dollar vote, Petition Drive, politicians

Changing The East Lansing Charter

There is a ballot battle being waged in East Lansing, Michigan. An old charter provision requires 60% voter approval before the city can sell property valued at greater than $4/resident. Todd Heywood has written a concise rundown of the issue here.

From Todd’s article:

In 1944, the City of East Lansing formally adopted its charter, bringing it into compliance with a state law that required a supermajority to sell property (which it was required to follow anyway). In 1948, the state repealed this requirement. The city did not move to amend the charter.

He’s referencing this provision of the East Lansing Charter:

4.8. – Restriction on Powers of the Council.

a.The Council shall not have the power to contract with or give any official position to any person who is in default to the City, except any contract to cure the default.

b.The Council shall not have the power to sell any real property of a value in excess of four dollars ($4.00) per capita according to the last preceding U.S. Census, or any parkland, or a cemetery, or any property bordering on water, or vacate any street or public place leading to a waterfront, or engage in any business enterprise requiring an investment of money in excess of ten cents (10¢) per capita, unless approved by three fifths (3/5) of the electors voting at any general or special election.

c.Except as otherwise provided in this Charter, no ordinance or resolution shall be adopted or passed except by the affirmative vote of at least three (3) members of the Council.

d.There shall be no standing committees of the Council.

On May 5, 2015 voters will get to decide this question:

“Shall Section 4.8 of the East Lansing Charter be amended to change the requirement for voter approval to sell certain real property from a three fifths (3/5) majority vote of the electors to a simple majority vote of the electors and add an annual inflation adjustment, tied to the consumer price index, to the current four dollar ($4.00) per capita dollar limitation to sell real property?”

I am curious how many additional Michigan home rule cities include this 3/5ths provision in their charters.


Update: May 6, 2015

Local Proposal 2

The passing of Prop 2 will allow the City Council to sell property with a simple majority vote from citizens.

Mayor Nathan Triplett has strongly endorsed the passing of the local Prop 2 so City Council can proceed with selling blighted property, but as of 10 p.m. Tuesday, results are too close to call with 53 percent of voters in favor of the East Lansing charter amendment proposal. Nine more precincts have yet to report results.

He previously told The State News Editorial Board that East Lansing is one of only three cities in the state that requires a supermajority to sell land. All other cities require a 50 percent-plus-one majority.

In November, Fifty-seven percent of voters approved the city’s proposed sale of the blighted Park District area to DTN Management Co.

However, because of the current 60 percent voter approval requirement, the sale could not go through.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Ballot measures, Ballot Question, charter amendment, Our million dollar vote

Land Use At The Ballot In Boulder, Colorado

Land use and zoning are not always issues that can be addressed through the initiative process. Leaving these decisions in the hands of city officials can create issues where some developments get preferential treatment and variances while others are held strictly to the letter of the law. In Colorado activists are using the initiative process to take those decisions away from municipal officials.

Boulder, Colorado citizens have proposed two charter amendments that would require public approval of projects that do not conform with existing land use regulations.

Proposed Boulder charter amendments

“Development Shall Pay Its Own Way” would require the city to develop measurements for levels of service in a variety of areas, including police, fire, libraries, parks, human services and transportation, and to not approve new development that does not pay for or otherwise provide for that level of service to be maintained. New development would be defined as any project that increases the floor area of a building or site, or any change in use of an existing building.

“Neighborhoods’ Right to Vote on Land-Use Regulation Changes” would require a vote on land-use changes if 10 percent of the registered voters in a neighborhood asked for one. Land-use changes that would subject to a vote would include exemptions to height, density and the occupancy limit, reductions in parking and setbacks, and zoning changes. Land-use changes that affect multiple neighborhoods would require separate elections in each neighborhood.

Another land use ballot question will be voted on in Aspen Colorado on May 5, 2015. It’s intent is similar, a voter approval requirement for zoning variances.

Sample Ballot:


Text of the Amendment:

Shall Article XIII of the Home Rule Charter of the City of Aspen be amended by the addition of the following?
Section 13.14 – Voter authorization of certain land use approvals.
(a)        Any land use approval granted by the City of Aspen, or an amendment to a previous land use approval, including those granted as a result of litigation, on land within the zone districts listed in paragraph (b), that exceeds the zoning limitations for allowable floor area or maximum height (including height restricted by view planes), or which reduces the requirements for the amount of off-street parking spaces or affordable housing, shall not be effective unless subsequently approved by a majority of all City electors voting thereon.
(b)        Except as set forth herein below, the provisions of paragraph (a) shall apply to all properties east of Castle Creek within the following zone districts on January 1, 2015: Commercial Core (CC) zone district, Commercial (C-1) zone district, Service/Commercial/Industrial (S/C/I) zone district, Neighborhood  Commercial (NC) zone district, Mixed Use (MU) zone district, Lodge (L) zone district, Commercial Lodge (CL) zone district, Lodge Overlay (LO) zone district, Lodge Preservation Overlay (LP) zone district.
(c)        Although within the zone districts set forth in paragraph (b), the following shall be exempt from the provisions of paragraph (a): single-family and duplex homes, replacement of non-conforming structures, and variations necessary to meet the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Federal Fair Housing Act (FHA), the Federal Telecommunications  Act (FTA), to implement energy efficiency measures, to meet applicable building and fire codes, or an amendment to a previous land use approval that reduces height or floor area or increases the amount of parking or affordable housing.
(d)        The approval of the electorate required by this Section shall take place at the next available previously scheduled state or county election, the next general municipal election or a special election set by the Council, whichever is earlier.
(e)        The City of Aspen shall amend the Land Use Regulations to be consistent with this Home Rule Charter Amendment.


Leave a Comment

Filed under Ballot measures, Ballot Question, charter amendment, Initiative, Petition Drive, politicians

Sammamish, Washington I&R Advisory Vote

Sammamish, Washington will be having an advisory note next Tuesday 4/28/2015 to judge public support for initiative and referendum. An advisory vote is not legally binding but should influence the council. Advisory votes can be called through an advisory petition (read more about advisory petitions here,) or by the legislative body in that jurisdiction. This advisory vote has been called by the Sammamish city council at their February 3, 2015 meeting.

Sammamish is a charter code city under Washington state law, but citizens do not currently have a binding legal means to propose municipal legislation apart from the city council. Harry Shedd a resident of Sammamish has put together a beautiful website explaining the advisory vote, and the initiative and referendum process.

For more information:

Sammamish Review
Ballotpedia page

Arguments in favor

Arguments against


Leave a Comment

Filed under Ballot measures, Ballot Question, Initiative, Petition Drive, referendum, Support These Campaigns!

Warren Michigan Term Limits, When the Mayor Won’t Let Go

The mayor in Warren Michigan, is trying to do an end run around voter approved term limits.

From Deadline Detroit:

This story begins in December 2014, in the political slumber between the Christmas and New Year holidays, when Warren City Attorney David Griem issued a dubious legal opinion. He claimed claimed a city charter amendment approved by voters in the 1990s, which limits officials to 12 years in an office (three 4-year terms),  is not what the electorate thought it was.

Their logic: At large council seats are different offices than ward council seats and the term limit clock counts separately if you were elected at large or in a ward.

Let’s look at the relevant section of the Warren city charter.

First council and mayor:

Sec. 4.1 – City officers. (a)The elective officers shall be the mayor, the seven council members, the clerk, and treasurer.

Sec. 5.1 – The city council.(a) The council shall consist of seven members, one of whom shall be the mayor pro-tem. There shall be five council districts and one at-large district established in the city. One member shall be elected from each of the five (5) council districts and two members shall be elected at-large. Each candidate for a city council district shall be a resident of the council district he or she seeks to represent. A city council member’s office is vacated if the member moves his or her residence outside of the council district that the member represents.


Next term limits:

Sec. 4.3 – Certain persons ineligible for city office. (d) A person shall not be eligible to hold the office of mayor, city council, city clerk or city treasurer for more than the greater of three (3) complete terms or twelve (12) years in that particular office. This provision shall be applied to commence with the term of office that took effect after the election on November 7, 1995.

Area reporter Chad Selwiski has done a great story on this issue, he writes:

Griem, a formerly prominent criminal defense attorney, claims that the city council operates as a bicameral legislature, similar to the distinct House and Senate chambers in Congress.

Yet, the council never meets or votes in separate sessions based on district council members vs. at-large council members.

“The words (bicameral legislature) are just not there,” the suit claims. “(The charter) repeatedly refers to a single office of city council, and there is nothing – nothing — in the charter to indicate the contrary.”

Read more here.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Ballot measures, Ballot Question, charter amendment, Michigan Term Limits, politicians, Term limits